Kids love to act like adults. Kids all over the world are just now pushing plastic lawnmowers around behind Mom or Dad and baking cookies in kiddie-size ovens. But what happens when Mom and Dad go to work? What’s that mysterious world all about–with its products, design, transactions, manufacturing, retailing and logistics? The Mexican entrepreneur Xavier López Ancona thought kids might be interested in this world, too–and even better he knew companies would be interested in seeing kids at formative ages interact with their brands. So he built the indoor theme park Kidzania (originally named City of Children), which since opening in Mexico City in 1999 has expanded to 13 locations around the world and hosted more than 20 million children. Ancona’s bet is that the future of youth amusement as much role play as roller coaster–and his bet looks good.
At KidZania, kids work in little cities that are miniatures of the real world–they bottle Coca-Cola, fry down at McDonald’s, fly to appointments on American Airlines. Kids are firemen, baristas, nurses and air traffic controllers. And they earn KidZania currency that they can spend shopping or maybe going to the theater. The experience is meant not only to entertain but to burnish in kids the skills that will make them good workers, citizens–and consumers! And what’s terrific from KidZania’s perspective is all the companies who pay to get their brands in front of impressionable kids. Besides those mentioned, familiar names include Domino’s Pizza, Wal-Mart, Mitsubishi Motors, Honda, HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Sony, Unilever, Kellogg’s and Fuji Film. That’s just the tip of the corporate iceberg. In fact corporate partners like this supplied more than half KidZania’s start-up costs. Having conquered Kuwait, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Seoul, Santiago and Tokyo (to name just a few), KidZania is nearly ready to try its formula on the tough American kid market. Plans are to open the first US KidZania in 2015. That’ll be after the first of these cities for future capitalists open in Moscow and Saudi Arabia.